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United we stand

Spreading the refrigeration technology message across the globe for the greater good was the aim of the recent XVI EU Conference, says Marco Buoni

The XVI EU Conference, held last month in Milan, aimed to promote refrigeration technology and its role in food preservation and conservation to a global audience, highlighting the technologies and solutions adopted through European best-practise.

In developing countries, 40 per cent of fruit and vegetables (see table) are wasted during transportation or during sowing, harvesting or distribution, before arriving to consumers - in developed countries this is reduced to 10 per cent.

The conference, organised by United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and other groups, hosted at the Politecnico of Milan and EXPO2015, was the largest event in the history of Centro Studi Galileo (CSG) and the Italian Association of Refrigeration Technicians – a total of 200 participants from four continents attended, together with more than 50 speakers involved.

Act now

With the industry facing huge challenges in the coming years, the main theme of the conference was Do Not Wait – Act Now, courtesy of Per Jonasson, president of AREA.

The Italian Association of Refrigeration Technicians (ATF) together with the Centro Studi Galileo (CSG) have over the past few years been involved in helping developing countries improve living conditions, by improving refrigeration and air conditioning systems and processes, through capacity building and training technicians to install, repair, maintain and design numerous projects with United Nations in Africa and Asia (Ethiopia, Rwanda, Ghana, Tunisia, Eritrea, Benin, Bahrain, Sri Lanka, and so on).

One of the key issues set to have an impact is the huge changes in the refrigerant industry, which will involve the entire cooling sector in a far-reaching revolution.

We have a duty to find technological solutions to reduce and fight against environmental issues also related to energy efficiency, in order to benefit the consumer and society as a whole.

Therefore, at the XVI European Conference in Milan-EXPO2015 the focus was on innovative technologies such as magnetic refrigeration, the use of solar energy, new heat pumps using CO2, reduction of refrigerant charging, the use of turbo in refrigeration, CO2 transcritical in warm climates, and many more.

More specifically, a long-term solution is represented by natural refrigerants, however, many stakeholders are still looking at short-term “quick-fixes”, in the form of synthetic refrigerants (the solution with minimal help and fast changes in the system).

We will not be able to develop a fifth generation of refrigerants.

As Professor Cavallini said: “We have evaluated all the types of different synthetic refrigerants – we are at the fruit in our virtual dinner.”

With this in mind there are two important consequences:

  • Most new alternative refrigerants have characteristics of toxicity. Flammability and high pressures -standards must be adapted to these refrigerants in order to avoid accidents and to take into account technology progresses
  • Technicians of the RAC industry must be trained in order to correctly implement these technologies and to provide proper maintenance.

The conference also provided the opportunity to form numerous new alliances and strengthen existing ones.

Firstly, the alliance between UNEP, the International Institute of Refrigeration and the Centro Studi Galileo was strengthened, with the promise of sustained cooperation on organising training courses and technical conferences in all regions of the world and particularly in developing countries.

Other alliances involved private sector companies across all aspects within the industry. Collaboration with the private sector is considered crucial for making progress in an increasingly globalised market.

Europe is the global leader in the use of new technologies, motivated by technological innovation brought on by the recent changes in regulations.

The European alliance can firmly make inroads into new markets because of Europe’s experienced dynamism not seen in any other market of the world.

Last but not least, we developed a collaborative partnership with the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in co-organising a session on refrigeration technologies for food storage. 

The event explored an array of issues, including experiences on fruit storage from the Gambia and Italy. It presented relevant solutions that will be found useful in the work of FAO and other agencies working on promoting food and nutritional security in the world.

As a follow-up to the session, FAO proposed the creation of a coordinated global coalition which would include CSG, IIR and UNEP and other organisations and would aim at implementing an initiative to foster and support cold chain development in developing countries.

We look forward to strengthening the partnership with FAO which will allow us contribute even more effectively in using refrigeration technologies in the fight against hunger and malnutrition in developing countries: post-harvest losses due to a lack of refrigeration represent 23 per cent of the food production in developing countries versus 9 per cent in developed countries and refrigerated storage capacities are tenfold in developed countries compared with developing countries (IIR statistics).

Marco Buoni is AREA vice-president and secretary of the Association of Refrigeration Technicians, Italy.

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